3D printers work by melting plastic filament and laying down the material in thin layers through a nozzle, gradually building up the programmed digital files. 3D printing also is known as additive manufacturing helps to design and develop customized solutions for prostheses. The rapid strides in the additive manufacturing technology have resulted in increased usage of the products from 3D printing services geared towards the pediatric population.
Children have growth spurts and this makes it difficult to get the right sized prostheses devices. Conventionally manufactured prostheses are expensive. The cost burden is compounded in emerging countries where the cost to access the services of orthotics is also beyond the reach of many families. This results in a decreased quality of life for the children and their families. 3D printing bridges the gap of cost and delivery of prosthetic products by customization of the prostheses and reducing the cost of the final product. In addition, the time required to access the services is greatly lessened.
Customization of the products enables the products to be created to meet the growing needs of children. However, despite the optimism of technology, there is a balance to be expected when using the technology. There is a need for standardization of the prostheses manufactured using 3D technology. Also, the limitation of the products from 3D printing services needs to be clearly identified.
Some of the challenges are:
Manufacturing ability: Many parts of a prosthesis are complex and require special build styles or specific materials. In-house operations may not be able to achieve the desired look, feel, or function. It can be risky and difficult to operate these printers without constant access to someone with professional experience and knowledge on the subject.
Additive manufacturing expertise: Expertise is the key differentiating factor in creating a quality part or product. 3D-printing technologies require knowledge of what is required to finish a part and the equipment used to accomplish that.
Simplify3D, a 3D-printing software company, identifies over 25 common issues encountered during printing, including the material not sticking to the print bed, under-extrusion, over-extrusion, gaps, stringing and oozing, overheating, layer shifting, and a clogged extruder.
Choosing a printer that can print the right materials, which must be configured correctly, can depend on dozens of variables based on specific user needs. Maintenance of that printer can take up precious time and become expensive.
In addition, it is critical to have a backup printer to mitigate any downtime due to equipment failure. Optimizing data quality is also a serious inconvenience in printing. 3D-model resolution (the number of facets making up the surface of a CAD model) is controlled in the software when it is created and affects the quality of the finished product. The ability to repair a broken STL file is critical to data integrity and a successful print.
If 3D printing has to truly revolutionized medicine especially the pediatric age group by printing prostheses then the challenges facing 3D printing technology has to be addressed.